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Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, unveiled his educational reform proposal in a speech given at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at The Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit. In his speech he detailed a new plan to give parents more choices in choosing which schools their children attend.
“I don’t like the direction of American education, and as president, I will do everything in my power to get education on track for the kids of this great land,” Romney said in his speech.
According to Romney’s plan, it is proposed that in order to increase the number of high-performing schools in areas serving low-income students and special needs students, schools accepting Title I and IDEA funding do the following:
• First, adopt open-enrollment policies that permit eligible students to attend public schools outside of their school district that have the capacity to serve them.
• Second, provide access to and appropriate funding levels for digital courses and schools, which are increasingly able to offer materials tailored to the capabilities and progress of each student when used with the careful guidance of effective teachers.
• Third, ensure that charter school programs can expand to meet demand, receive funding under the same formula that applies to all other publicly-supported schools, and access capital funds.
Essentially the plan’s focus is to allow parents the freedom to have their student attend whichever school they feel will best accommodate their needs by allowing the funding to follow those students. If, however, a student is not able to move to a different school, Romney proposes that the funding go to the parents to provide educational and tutoring services for the child.
“I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school,” Romney said in his speech. “For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted. And I will make that choice meaningful by ensuring there are sufficient options to exercise it.”
However, Romney’s plan isn’t without its detractors. Many feel that the plan is opening up the education industry to business speculators looking to cash in on education reform efforts.
In a piece for The Huffington Post, English teacher Randy Turner, explained that Romney’s plan focuses on the wrong issues in reforming education.
“As always with these alleged reformers, there was not one single word in Romney's speech dedicated to removing the diseases that have helped cause the problems in our inner-city schools,” Turner wrote. “No mention of crime. No mention of drugs. No mention of physical abuse, mental abuse, or sexual abuse. In other words, there were no mentions of the problems that sometimes make success in the classroom secondary to simple survival.”
Additionally some wonder whether the plan’s option to employ funding directly to parents in cases of students who can’t move schools is the best idea.
Matthew Yglesias, explained in a commentary for Slate Magazine that, in theory, Romney’s proposal would work for parents in more affluent areas, but the students that really need education reform may not benefit.
“The kind of kids who are worst-served by the existing school system—kids experiencing family disruption and who low-income and often poorly educated parents themselves—are going to be very poorly served by this idea,” Yglesias wrote. “Neither a single mom who dropped out of high school and is trying to raise three kids on a minimum wage job, nor a pair of Mexican immigrants with no English literacy are going to do a great job of hiring an algebra tutor for their children.”
Following his speech in Washington, Romney toured a West Philadelphia charter school that serves primarily inner-city African American children, while expounding on his plan to reform education.
“The gap in the educational opportunity and achievement of people of color in this society, I believe is the civil rights issue of our time,” Romney said at the event.
While there, however, he fielded tough questions from teachers and community members on his plan, including why the community schools couldn’t be improved rather than moving children to different schools. The visit left many wondering whether he truly understood the situation that these community members were in.
“I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America,” Philadelphia's Democratic mayor, Michael Nutter said to MSNBC.
These two stops were just part of a campaigning tour that will end in Boston before the Memorial Day weekend.
Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions